Thursday, May 27, 2010

Something about Beauty

I've been reading various things relating to Japanese aesthetics and came across a rather lovely essay by Donald Keene in Japanese Aesthetics and Culture: A Reader in which he discusses four key elements which he believes reflect something of the Japanese sense of beauty.  One of the main sources for Keene's approach is book called Essays in Idleness  by a 14th century Buddhist priest, Kenko.

"In all things, it is the beginnings and ends that are interesting."

"In everything, no matter what it may be, uniformity is undesirable.  Leaving something incomplete makes it interesting, and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth."


The cherry blossom falls from the tree after only three days but this impermanence is part of its aesthetic significance in Japanese culture.

These four elements are not necessarily equally prized in a Western sense of aesthetic taste.  Keene discusses how Irregularity and Perishability in particular are qualities that fly in the face of much of Western art tradition.  Versaille or Ryoan-ji.  Marble or Cherry Blossom.

But how beautiful they are.  For me they sum up that intangible, indescribable thing that I aspire to in my own work and that I am drawn to in the work of others.


  1. thank you for this. beauty does seem to rely heavily of mutability, irregularity, perishability, and simplicity.

  2. Lovely post. Donald Keene's great. Crispin Sartwell's 'Six Names of Beauty' is also fantastic on this, revealing the many different sides of beauty.

    (P.S. So glad you like my blog!)

  3. Thanks Ruth - I'll seek out the Sartwell, had a quick look on line and it looks rather good.
    And well done with the A2 piece!

  4. Thanks Christine - I'm really enjoying your blog. I'm just about to add it to my reading list.